Coming into this meet, the Stetson women’s cross country team had one major goal: to bring A-Sun rival Jacksonville down a couple of notches in the conference rankings. As of September 26th, Jacksonville was ranked third in the coaches’ poll with 72 points, Stetson was tenth with 23. The Stetson women knew that they deserved better, and the quickest way to settle that score was in head-to-head competition.
The college women’s race got into motion with Anne-Marie Blaney dominating the field, pulling her UCF team along to an undisputed first place finish; Blaney won her third meet of the year in a school record 17:24, and the Knights took the team championship with 34 points.
Behind Blaney, JU’s Svenja Meyer finished second (17:52), and super-frosh Katy Solis was third (18:30). But then it was Stetson’s turn. Freshman Samantha Hicks ran her best college race ever, finishing seventh in the college scoring, and her 18:56 came within one second of the school’s record 5K time for women (18:55).
“I felt good; I felt fresh,” she said afterward. “[Head Coach] Joe [Matuszczak] wanted me to run the first mile in 6:11, but I crossed it at six flat. I just felt really good, so I kept it up.
“I tried to catch a girl at the end—unattached Holly Wooley (18:55)—but I couldn’t. I didn’t have as much of a kick as I normally do.
“I’m happy with my time. My goal was 19:15, and I ran 18:56. I’m glad I could help my team.”
Next, in order of finish, were Amanda Spring (10th in 19:06), Adrienne De Vita (16th in 19:30), Daniella Godenzi (19th in 19:53), and Sabrina Guzsvany (27th in 20:16). That top five scored 79 points and underscored Jacksonville’s 90.
“What they averaged as a team tonight, is what my goal was for the end of season conference meet,” explained an ecstatic Matuszczak. “I had hoped to get down to a team average of 19:30 by the end of the season, and they ran 19:32.”
Season ending times at its midpoint? That is success spelled with a capital S.
“The conditions were almost perfect for this race,” Matuszczak continued. “It was an afternoon meet that could have been a scorcher, but we had great weather; it was overcast, with a light drizzle. With that, we had a lot of outstanding performances. Sami was the first girl in years that ran under 19. Eighteen seconds split six girls—our fifth through tenth finishers—and both Amanda and Adrienne are showing signs of being able to go under 19 by the end of the season.”
After Stetson’s top five scorers came Jessica Cosgrove (20:19), Trixi Menge (20:23), Shelby Block (20:25), Clarissa Consol (20:33), Emily Nolan (20:34), Valerie Hiller (21:12), Shannon Harrell (22:05), Nicole Garrabrant (22:09), Connie Compton (22:13), Christine Iseley (22:22), and Susan Scaggs (23:10). (Times in bold denote a college PR.)
“The girls are starting to show the work they put in,” Matuszczak said. “I projected times for all the girls, and they were almost dead on.
“We did our first speed work this week, so it is only going to get better. The beauty of it is that they are not running for themselves, but for the team. And we beat JU, which was just ranked third in the conference, a conference juggernaut. As of tonight, we’re right in the middle of the conference. It all depends upon who 'shows up' for that conference meet.”
Leading the men, with a ten second PR, was senior Andrew Epifanio. It was Epifanio’s last college cross country 5K, and while bitter-sweet—he had hoped to go under 16—he reset the Stetson 5K school record with his 16:19.
“I felt rested, but the sun came out just before the race,” he said afterwards. “It wore me down. I went out faster than I had intended, because Beery and I were pacing off each other.
Consequently our mile splits weren’t as even as we wanted them to be. Considering that we hadn’t been training for a 5K—we’ve been on an 8K training plan—I still set a PR in my last cross country 5K race.”
Joe Beery (16:36), Ryan Hodgins (17:10), Andrew Townes (17:29), and Cody Malloy (17:46) rounded out the men’s scoring, all in their college PRs. Hodgins ran an inspiring race, and among Stetson finishers, placed his highest of the season.
“I felt really good,” he reported. “There haven’t been many 5Ks this year, and I wanted to make up for USF,” which unfortunately was a short course. “I was pumped up because I got nominated for a Hattemy Award.”
For Hodgins, the season is hardly over. He still has two 8Ks left, UCF in mid-October, and the A-Sun, which is on the first Saturday in November. In last year’s A-Sun he finished third for the team.
“I definitely want to PR again this year, and break 29 for 8K,” Hodgins continued. “We want to move up a couple of places, and improve the team’s standing at the A-Sun. I hope to help with that.”
Although non-scorers, Jeremy Butler (18:30), Kyle Meerdo (19:00), Austyn Finnk (19:57), James Welch III (20:00), Matthew Ady (21:01), and Derrick Greene (24:49) all ran solid races. The Stetson men’s team finished fourth out of ten teams entered.
Next up: the UCF Golden Nights Invitational on Friday, October 18th. Men run an 8K, and women a 6K.